The breakdown of Nylander > Marner

Recently, we finalized the rankings for our site’s Top 20 Leafs Prospects. Review them from the top down here, starting with Auston Matthews. As you’ll note, we had Mitch Marner at #2 and William Nylander at #3. I, however, did not.

My personal rankings had Nylander at 2 and Marner at 3 and I’d like to get into details as to why that is. I teased this analysis in my Nylander post so I apologize for taking this long to get it out here. I want to make absolutely sure that I’m aware the difference is very small. They’re basically on the same pyramid tier. But I had to put one at 2 and this is why I made that Nylander.


Everyone is aware that centers are more valuable than wingers. It’s a topic of debate at every draft, on whether to take the most talented player or the one at the more valuable position. Most notable here would be the debate between Strome and Marner where Strome, the center, was selected one position higher than Marner, despite them being largely equal talents (Marner being the more talented one if anything). 

In the last 2 years, Mitch Marner has not played center for more than a few games. It’s pretty clear that he fit better in the Knights system as a right winger, and I expect the same to be true for him as a Leaf. There has been very little, if any, indication that the Leafs intend to develop Marner as a center. 

However, the same cannot be said of William Nylander. He played all of last year at center, including in the NHL. Additionally, his time in the SHL the previous year was played at center. There’s a real opportunity for Nylander to be a top-level, puck controlling center not unlike Nicklas Backstrom, Logan Couture or Claude Giroux. 

For me, while when drafting you should take the more talented player (BPA) every time. But, the same is not true when ranking prospects against each other post-draft. Even if we were to say Marner and Nylander are equally talented, Nylander would be more valuable for playing a more important position. +1 for Nylander.


Production itself isn’t a great tool to use as a comparison. Sure, Marner scored 119 points in the OHL. But how does that rank against Nylander’s 45 points in the AHL, or 13 NHL points? On their own, comparing the numbers against each other isn’t easy.

Instead, we’ll use projection tools to compare them. These tools amass the production stats from their junior careers, account for the leagues they played in, and create an output that suggests how successful they will be in the NHL. We’ll compare Marner and Nylander’s outputs against each other to see whose is better.

Before I start, I know there are gripes with NHLe. But I’m going to use it here because if there are two leagues that have an abundance of data available to make reliable projections, it’s the AHL and the CHL, where Nylander and Marner respectively played last season.

I’m also going to use the pGPS stats that were shown in the prospect rankings, which will be compared in a table below.

Nylander 46 29 22
Marner 53 29 22

We can see that the all-situations NHLe numbers clearly favour Marner, but when you break it into even strength only (a far more stable production measure) Nylander and Marner are exactly even. Still, Marner is projected to score more, so +1 to Marner.

Nylander 25 22 88.0% 0.65 53.08 56.96
Marner 25 16 64.0% 0.82 67.11 52.38

I want to clarify the meanings of those numbers before we continue. The most important number there is pGPSr, which is a hybrid of the pGPS% and pGPS PPG numbers to produce an overall score. While Marner’s comparables scored more in the NHL, there were fewer of them, so Nylander gets the edge in this regard. +1 to Nylander.


Of course, we all know that Nylander is a year older than Mitch Marner, This itself doesn’t necessarily favour Nylander. However, what does favour Nylander is the level of competition to which he has proven himself. He has been dominant in the SHL at 18, as well as dominant in the AHL at 19, to complement a strong outing in the NHL, again at just 19. 

Marner, while absolutely destroying junior hockey, has only destroyed junior hockey. This isn’t a negative against Marner, but it leaves room for uncertainty. The longer a prospect is successful, the lower the probability of failure. 

So, if both players are playing at very high levels, essentially equally impressive at their respective levels, the one further along in their development path, is more valuable. I’ve drawn up a generic graph below to illustrate my point. Assume that ceiling and floor are functions of performance, and that value is average of ceiling and floor. Also assume that performance level relative to the league their in stays constant.We get something that looks like this:

I see this as the general trendline for a prospect. We can see the ceiling and floor estimates converge to actual NHL value. Usually, this takes longer than 4 seasons, around 5-6, but I’ve shown 4 for simplicity. We also see the value steadily rising as the players progress, despite the assumption above that their performance has gotten no more or less impressive along this time. The reason I set it up like this is that the probability of failure (a player talent dropping to their floor) decreases as the seasons go on. Thus, the floor rises. And because of this, value rises. Nylander’s floor is higher than Marner’s floor due to us seeing the same level of elite performance for an additional year. So, I see him as more valuable. +1 to Nylander.


So by my completely arbitrary and meaningless scorecard, Nylander wins 3-1. We can also note that each and every win was squeaky close. That’s why everyone sees these prospects as so equally valuable. However, since Nylander got more of those wins, he is the more valuable prospect. And that is why he should be ranked as the Leafs #2 prospect.

  • alexsteen

    You are wrong. You couldn’t be any more wrong. When you look up wrong in the dictionary there will be a picture of you.

    Nylander is a naturally talented player but his hockey IQ isn’t in the same realm as Marner. This is highlighted when you compare their post season statistics. In the post season the opposition gears there systems around shutting down the natural talent of opposing teams top players. Nylander was a complete non factor in the playoffs. Marner became a God.

    As coaching systems became more of a factor in the playoffs and the games leading up to the platoffs, Marner actually got better, seeing his points per game rise to over 2.4. This is because as players start more rigorously implementing their systems, they become more predictable. Marner’s hockey IQ could take advantage of that.

    Pure athleticism like Nylanders can be countered with systems. But there is no counter for Marner’s hockey intelligence.

    • alexsteen

      lol. History is littered with small wingers who tore up junior and flamed out in the NHL. Nylander dominating the AHL and doing fairly well in the NHL (in a small sample size) means FAR more than Marner dominating the OHL on a stacked line on a stacked team.

      Marner is incredibly skilled and I believe he’ll be a great NHLer, but right now, anyone who has him ahead of Nylander is insane.

      And are you really comparing the OHL playoffs to the AHL playoffs? Using one playoff run to make such a black and white judgement is asinine.

    • CMpuck

      You also can’t convince me that .55>.65. .55 is Nylanders nhle points per game estimate while .65 is Marner’s using the most recent regular season stats. Leaving Marner’s playoff superiority aside. While nhle is not perfect, the larger sample size of the Ahl to nhl and ohl to nhl data points makes it a more reliable predictor than anything else we have for those league’s.

      And it’s not just me, most of the panel also feels Marner is superior. Marner went 4th in a generational draft even though he was undersized. Nylander went 8th in anything but a generational draft. Virtually every hockey analyst agrees Marner is better. So ya I guess we’re all idiots!

    • lab16

      The only reason Nylander caught Marner in points is because Marner got injured. He was leading the rookies at the time. And don’t forget that Marner had to play with two old fogies. As for Marner not being a center: count the passes he makes vs. most any other center. I want him to play with Marleau, a center that can pass and score. Even if they put Marleau on the wing, Mitch will find him.

  • Stan Smith

    It will be interesting to watch both Nylander and Marner with the Leafs this season. I figure Nylander will get more ice time at the beginning of the season. It will be interesting to see if Marner’s growth is gradual, or will he force Babcock to notice, and play him more.

    I have had limited viewing of both players, but from what I have seen Marner is more of an in your face, all guns blazing, type of player, where Nylander plays a quieter, look for opportunities, type of game.

    One note on Nylander, despite playing centre for the complete regular season, for the Marlies and the Leafs, by the end of the AHL playoffs, he would take draws, but revert to wing afterwards. I really think his game is more suited to wing than centre. I actually think his game looks a lot like Kessel’s, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

  • DukesRocks

    Nylander is not our second best prospect. In my opinion he’s not even the third best. That honour should belong to Zaitsev.

    In fact if you look at their all around game Connor Brown is currently a better player than Nylander. Although Nylander may eventually surpass him. But he hasn’t done that yet. So that would put Nylander at 5th.

    After jimmy Vesey and Patrik Laine, Nylander is the most overrated prospect in the league.

    You all do know that nice hair doesn’t count right?

    • Trevor5555

      A study from the international ice hockey federations think tank established that nice long flowing hair is distracting to opposing players and gives a distinct advantage over short hair. Why do you think the scoring rates were so high in the 80’s? Mullet baby!!!!!

      Perfect example being Jarimor Jagr. Without those flowing locks he could never produce at such a high level in the NHL at his age.

      Regarding Nylander vs Marner I think both project to be solid top 6 forwards in the future. It will be interesting to see which guy has more of an impact next year as both will likely play RW in our top 6. Given Nylanders 1 year older and has a year and a half in the AHL where he was very good he should have more of an impact. If Marner has a more positive impact next year its likely he has the better NHL career. But I think we are talking about 10-20 Pts in the difference between the two players year to year maximum as I really see both as steady 50-70Pts guys with Marner being the more offensively talented and Nylander being the more complete player and probably switching to center in the long run.

      I like Connor Brown too and think he could be a good top 9 winger for us but I think Nylander is a bit better in every way. Look at Nylanders AHL PPG rate compared to Browns and consider that Brown is 3 years older. I would love Brown to get a shot at the NHL club this year but he might be stuck behind Lupul and Michalek whereas Nylander is gaurenteed to be on the NHL club. Babcock already indicated he wants Nylander with Matthews indicating he thinks highly of him.

      I really think Matthews, Nylander, Marner and Zaitsev will all be in the Calder Trophy conversation. When is the last time a team had 4 rookies with legitimate Calder Trophy hopes? Im not sure if its ever happened!!!

    • CMpuck

      What do you expect to happen when you post a article like this on a Leafs fansite?

      Every piece of analytics points to Marner being better than Nylander. 9 out of ten panelists agree Marner is better. Every major prospect ranking has Marner over Nylander. Marner was drafted higher than Nylander. Marner just won every mvp award possible in the chl. Marner just put on a historic postseason run while Nylanders post season was a huge disappointment. Yet somehow I’m an idiot. Nice!!!

      • killerkash

        The main reason why Nylander was not very productive in the playoffs last year was because he was playing hurt.
        He deserves the nod over Marner because of his proven ability at the pro level. The CHL has had an abundance of star players who couldn’t make it in the pros so until he proves that he can play with the men it’s Nylander who wins my vote.
        You should be grateful that both will get a chance to wear the blue and white instead of whining over who ranks higher. What does it matter?

  • CMpuck

    Not that it’s germain to the point of the article, but William Nylander doesn’t give a rats ass about the leafs or about Toronto. He’s only here because he can make more money here than in Sweden and the rules say that he has to play here. When Nylanders done soaking up as much money from Leaf fans as he can he’ll be gone in a flash never to be seen from again unless he’s being honoured for something.

    Mitch Marner bleeds the blue and white. He dreamed of being a leaf his whole life. If he wasn’t a superstar hockey player he might have been just another fan like us. His heart will always belong to this city and he will be giving back to the community and spending his vast wealth in it too. He’s a good kid and a member of our Leafs family. He deserves our support. And articles that say he’s not as good as some other guy who couldn’t care less about us don’t belong on our fan site.

    Attacks on Marner like this make me ashamed to be a Leaf fan. Where is your honour people?

        • Trevor5555

          So you don’t know what the word ‘slander’ means. Look it up. Look at what was written about Marner. Look at what you wrote about Nylander. Then get back to me.

          • CMpuck

            First off smart ass slander is spoken. Nothing today was spoken.

            Second slander is when you say something about someone that isn’t true and is damaging to their reputation. Saying Nylander is better than Marner is 100% untrue and damages Marner’s reputation.

          • CMpuck

            Good, you can use Google. Now let’s try an actual dictionary.

            Slander: the utterance or dissemination of false statements or reports concerning a person or malicious misrepresentation of their actions, in order to defame or injure them.

            So basically the entire xenophobic tirade you went on after you went off the deep end.

            Grow up, learn from this, and stop embarrassing yourself.

          • Gary Empey

            Well I agree with @Mst as far as the debate on talent between Nylander and Marner is concerned. As to the joke about Nylander well let us just say that as a bald guy I would take Nylander’s hair and the comments about it anyday.

          • CMpuck

            Nothing against rating Marner higher, I’m glad we have ’em both. Couldn’t really care less about the hair fixation either. It’s fabricating a story about a 20 yr old kid being some money grubbing mercenary, based entirely on their nationality. That’s the f-ed up part.

          • alexsteen

            If I remember correctly, MST is also the commenter who once said that he wished that the Leafs were comprised of mostly Canadians. I’m paraphrasing and I expect him to clarify subsequently. My point is that it’s not MST’s first time bringing nationality into a discussion that doesn’t really warrant it.

          • CMpuck

            You know I don’t even mind a Canadian/pick-your-nationality/city/team/whatever] bias in moderation. Like yeah, I was pumped for Penny Oleksiak too, more so because she’s from Canada. Sue me.

            Can’t stand when it’s taken out the other end and used against someone though.

  • CMpuck

    In my opinion this article has much to do about nothing.

    If people want to be politically correct, we need to understand the value of position over skill. In baseball the consensus is good pitching beats good hitting. This is reflected in the way teams draft players up the middle. In order that would be: Pitching, Catcher, SS and CF. However, keeping runs off the board isn’t sexy. This is why sometimes you will see the exception… a player taken first overall that doesn’t follow the drafting order by position. Ask yourself who gets all the glory and you will name offensive players.

    The same applies to hockey. Drafting by position should be keeping the puck out of the net. Therefore the drafting order should be Goalie, Defense and Centre.

    We all saw a good example of this when Carey Price went down and Habs folded. Carey Price was taken 5th overall. Pretty high for a goalie in today’s NHL. I’m not going to go into who was drafted ahead of him but lets just say it’s the Crosby draft.

    Anyway the point is drafting a Goalie is not sexy. Which brings us to Strome vs Marner.

    Yes, the perception is to draft the prototypical center over the winger. To me this would include IQ, Size and Skating. Strome has all these factors, however the only thing Stome beats Marner at, is size. Therefore, did Arizona make a mistake. Maybe and Maybe not, I don’t know their thought process… but what I can say there’s always exceptions to the rule. Patrick Kane was taken 1st overall and he’s a winger. Based on his hockey IQ and skills he stood out above the prototypical power forward like JVR (size) and a centre like Logan Couture. Based on the years that have passed since that draft, Chicago was RIGHT when they went with the smaller forward.

    Marner vs Nylander

    They way I see it, Marner’s hockey IQ is off the charts. Don’t get me wrong Nylander is a smart player but not your prototypical centre (ie: Mathews). If Nylander was 6’3″ I could see the author’s argument to put Nylander ahead of Marner but he’s not and when it comes to overall skill… Marner is ahead of Nylander.

    Marner vs Mathews

    When it comes down to it why does Mathews beat Marner. Two reasons: Size and he plays centre. This has nothing to do with overall skills because Marner can hold his own against the very best. Mathews beats Marner because the you prototypical centre.

    The comparison to me is Toews (Mathews) vs Kane (Marner). You can make and argument for taking either one over the other but what can’t be disputed is offensively Kane wins.

    In conclusion skill doesn’t win Stanley Cups. Balance, Chemistry and Coaching does.

    On a separate note Ryan Hobart tries to validate why he chose Nylander 2nd over Marner 3rd. This is the same guy that put Kapanen 4th over Zaitsev 5th. Makes you wonder why he wrote this article (Centre vs Winger) when he put a Winger over a Defender.

    Like I said this article has much to do about nothing based on the source.

  • Gary Empey

    For some reason all comments associated with this article have been removed. Just curious why?

    Ryan while I disagreed with your opinion Nylander ahead of Marner. You should actually write an article to explain why you have Kapanen #4 ahead of Zaitsev #5. This would be an interesting read.

    Just an FYI. I had the order as Mathews, Marner, Zaitsev and Nylander.

    • Gary Empey

      I’ll jump in on that one. Not sure who I’d lean towards, to be honest, but I’ll play devils advocate for Kappy:

      1) Age. Kapanen just turned 20 this summer while Zaitsev will be 25 before we’re a month into the season. There’s a lot more room for growth with Kapanen, and what he’s done to date is pretty impressive. I think people’s expectations have been skewed by Nylander. Not many players have the capacity to even play in the AHL as a teenager, let alone put up over 0.5 PPG. Plus Kapanen’s elevated his game in the playoffs and international tournaments already. He’s just a good, young prospect, straight up.

      2) Zaitsev’s unknowns. First, the transition to the smaller rinks. That’s going to be a hurdle for a defenceman used to a lot of space to carry the puck up and with certain. Second, adjusting to the speed and physicality of the NHL. Also kind of ties into the smaller rink side. The KHL isn’t a pushover league at all, but it’s not the same, and it’s less physical than the AHL I’d wager. Finally, his defensive game. I know he can play offence, from the numbers and scouting reports, etc. Haven’t heard a lot about the other side to be honest.

      Again, I dunno who I’d chose in a straight up trade, but there’s a solid case for Kappy out there.

      • DukesRocks

        While I will agree on pure skill I would say Kamanen might be the better player, he’s not more beneficial to team then Zaitsev.

        I will admit my knowledge of both players is limited to watching a hand full of games and stats but from what I’ve seen… Zaitsev is the real deal. He can skate, has good vision, got a canon of a shot, very smart and moves the puck well.

        It was interesting during the IIHF World Tournament, the coach didn’t play Zaitsev as much as some of his veteran D-men. I read it’s the Russian way… you have to earn your stripes. Even with the limited time, Zaitsev earned top D award for the tournament.

        Most off all it comes down to position. Zaitsev plays a premier position which hold more value then RW. It’s for this reason I actually I had Zaitsev slightly ahead of Nylander.

        The way I see it if you were tiering the top prospects, it would be:

        Mathews and Marner
        Zaitsev and Nylander

        After that there is a drop to the next tier.

        • CMpuck

          Yeah, there’s definitely a case for Zaitsev too. He sounds like he has all the tools on and off the ice. That said, Cody Ceci also had a lights-out WC, and he can’t defend for s**t in the NHL. Plus I’ve heard about player X being the ‘best skater/goalie outside the NHL’ so many times, only to watch them struggle in the transition or straight up flop, that it’s become a bit of a joke.

          Still, can’t say I wouldn’t put Zaitsev ahead of Kappy. It’s real close for me.

          On the other hand, I’d keep Marner away from Matthews’ tier, personally. By all accounts Matthews would’ve gone 2nd behind McDavid if he’d been born 2 days earlier. Strome, Marner and Hanifin are all elite prospects/young NHLers, no doubt, but I think Eichel and Matthews are on a different level.

          And not sure why you knock Kappy for playing the wing, then ignore it for Marner. I think Marner/Nylander is probably too close to call, if we’re being fair, but if I had to today I’d say Nylander. There’s the centre>winger thing, but also what Willy did in the SHL and then over a year and a half in the AHL was historic. Sure he didn’t have a great playoffs (neither did the rest of the team tbh), but Marner didn’t have a great WJC either (again, neither did the rest of the team tbh). People have gotten a little too pumped about the Knights’ team success.

          Either way, totally comfortable putting those two in the same tier, one that Zaitsev doesn’t belong in.

  • alexsteen

    Marner and Kappy are both skilled forwards no dispute there. The difference between the two is hockey IQ and leadership. This is the reason I put Marner in the same league as Mathews. In Marners case, I’ve seen him play about 25 times. What stands out to me is the creativity and vision. Generally I can follow the play developing into a scoring chance. Marner takes that to a whole new level. The speed in which he processes information and executes is above elite (hence off the charts). Before I knew what happened the puck was in the net. I had to watch replays 2 to 3 times to see what happened… it happened that fast. In addition to that he’s a leader. I watched a game where the Knights was down 3 goals and he put the team on his back to come back and win.

    Let me put it this way. If Marner was 6’3″… we’d be talking about how he’s a generational player. Just saying.

  • magesticRAGE

    A good way to break it down is skills, not just stat conversion. One could argue that if Nylander was given the green light for offense 100% I the time, he would have scored more. He focused on better defense, which benefits everyone. The wing is easier to focus on offense, but Marner’s defensive game is still evident. When scouts, pro or amateur, study players, they comment and project on skills, not necessarily on conversion stats.
    Skating, shot, Hockey sense, Physical play, positioning, etc. Then further breaking down each.
    I did this exercise and found that all things considered, Nylander edges out Marner. But it’s just fun, as both project to be core pieces for a long time.

  • Gary Empey

    It is superfluous at this point, to argue which of our top prospects is better than the other.

    None of them have yet to play a full year in the NHL.

    All of them have the potential to become NHL all-stars.

    It is the reason ESPN rates our prospect pool number one, with a bullet.

  • Gary Empey

    As for Ryan Hobart’s subjective article, simply take it for what it is. He is the only one breaking down how he came to his rankings.

    He was asked by the staff to rate each prospect.

    Here is his explanation on how he came to his conclusions.

    He has as much right to his opinion, as we have to ours. After all we are attempting to project, unproven prospects at the NHL level.

    It is fair to critique it.

    It is unfair to make your critique personal.

  • Gary Empey

    Final point.

    Anyone as old as me may remember a few respected sports writers at the time, felt Wayne Gretzky would not be able to succeed at the NHL level because of his lack of physicality. It wasn’t too long before they were all singing a different tune.

    I think it is fair to say Mitch Marner has some of the same “eyes in the back of the head” qualities Gretzky had.

    Both Hunter brothers played against Gretzky. So they know one when they see one.

    PS. –

    Anyone thought of how Marner, Matthews and Rielly would look at 3-on-3 overtime.?

  • Gary Empey

    Strangely enough, at the beginning, Gretzky’s size was mentioned in every early article, then suddenly never mentioned ever again.

    I think what is making us Leaf fans so anxious and edgy is, the unprecedented number of rookies expected to make the line-up. There are likely six this year. With another half-dozen waiting in the wings.

    A lot of years there wasn’t even one.

    We all can’t wait to see how this plays out on the ice and end the speculation

    I wish Babcock wasn’t coaching in the World Cup this year.

  • Kanuunankuula

    Jesus, I guess this why Don Cherry is still employed. Not like one of our best and liked player was from Sweden… To use MST’s argument, if Nylander was born in Ontario, this debate would not be as close as it is now.

    Something not mentioned here, Nylander is a faster skater. For Marner’s size, speed would be a good talent to have in the NHL (and yes, his edgework is awesome).

  • CMpuck

    Or how about they’re both really good prospects with high end skill, and it’s way too early to be debating who’s the better player. One guy hasn’t played a regular season game in the NHL yet, the other guy has played about 20 games. Everyone calm down, haha. I’m just glad the Leafs have both of them.

  • Gary Empey

    everyone shut up theyre both good and theyre both leafs! one is a RW and the other is also a RW who can play C. both have mind blowing shots. both have sick hands. both were top players in their leagues. Marner was picked 4 spots higher than Nylander but right now Nylander is probably the better prospective NHLer simply because hes played pro and in the NHL and he didnt suck. Marner is 1 year younger and, therefore, has 1 year less experience. when we see him this year in the NHL or wherever i think we will all just say “oh hes sick too” and let it go.

    • lab16

      Marner is 1 year younger and was a 1st year pro while Nylander was a 3rd year pro. Wait 2 seasons and then compare Marners with last years. Oh hell! Compare this years at the end with Nylander last year. End of argument. Nylander will be fine, all he has to do is learn how to back check and cover the point. (See the 2nd last game or so, of the playoffs), a brain cramp that hurt ever so bad. But he will improve. The comparison is not even close though.

  • Trevor5555

    i’m so tired of this argument. both are elite talents who will score point per game in their long nhl careers and hopefully bring the cup back to toronto!!! case closed!